The History of Racism in Fidel Castro’s Cuba

As reported by Depalmo from New York Times, Fidel Castro died on November 25th, 2016 (2016).  Since then, there has been a civil war among black people and people of color on social media in regards to how Castro should be remembered.  What shocked me the most, is the gap in knowledge about the history of racism in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. I am in the school of thought that Castro may have helped the greater good of black people across the world, but he ignored the black people suffering in his country and that is unforgivable (cmortalx, 2016).  Please refer to:

“Fidel Castro Dies and Nostalgia Takes Over. Please!”

However, with that post, I don’t think I made a good enough point of explaining why I think Fidel Castro should not be praised.
Castro came into power in 1959. Before his rise to power, Cuba was run by Fulgencio Batista.  When Castro began his Cuban Revolution, it was manned by the white middle class of Cuba. [In Cuba, the racial classification of “white” is a very inclusive oppose to the American definition (Cooke, 2015.)] In fact, when a group of anti-rebellion soldiers found a group of Castro Rebels they screamed, “Son Blancos!”, which means ‘They are white!’ (Cooke, 2015.) This is not to state that under Batista, that racism and inequality didn’t exist.  But I include this to help debunk the myth that Castro sought racial equality when he fought against Batist (Cooke, 2015).

The Cuban Revolution was not done because Castro valued the freedom of black Cubans [Dark skin Cubans with African features].

This was a revolution of the middle-class white Cuban, who have traditionally benefited from the Cuban Revolution and the Castro regime (Cooke, 2015).  It wasn’t until “tens of thousands” of the wealthiest whites left Cuba for Florida in 1959, that Castro even addressed the racism of the country and the imperialism and colonialism of America (Cooke, 2015). And from there we will find out that Cuba has seen very little progress in regards to racism.
In the 1980s, the regime decided to invest in black education, which produced many black doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.  However, this ended during the 90s because of the lack of blacks being able to gain entrance into sectors like hospital care (Zurbano, 2013).
In Post Cold-War Cuba in 1991, which is long after the Missile-Crisis and shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, which led to a great economic regression of Cuba, Cuban Blacks still lived in the poorest areas of Cuba and were economically underrepresented. (Gates, 2011).  Tato Quiñones, who is a well-reputed journalist that lived in Cuba during 80s and 90s, states that the economic disparity regarding Black Cubans and White Cubans was just as bad in 1991 than during the reign of the Soviet Union (Gates, 2011). During that time, which is about 20 years after the Cuban Revolution, blacks were kept at the bottom of economic pyramid while other groups could economically advance in society.  All the while, White Cubans remained at the top of the economic pyramid (Gates, 2011)
Quiñones states that this economic disparity was caused by the fact a large percentage of the Cubans who left during the 60s and the following decades were sending money to their white Cuban families (Gates, 2011). This means that a large percentage of money circulating in the economy was there due to the influx of cash from Cuban families in America (Cooke, 2015).  This influx of 100s of thousands to millions of dollars sent to white Cubans on a yearly basis solidified white dominance in Cuba (Gates, 2011).

Side Note:
Americans never truly validated the whiteness of Cubans and always included them as a part of the Hispanic community (Census, 2011).  However, in a 2014 piece from the New York Times, Cohn tackled why many Hispanics were classifying themselves as white in the 2000 U.S. Census. Many Hispanics do not consider themselves people of color as many of them represent the dominating class in the countries they come from (Cohn, 2014).
With that mindset, we can understand how the white dominating class in Cuba maintained their dominance with the help of wealthy and hardworking Cuban American family members that America traditionally classified as people of color.  Even with Hispanics that America considers non-white, whether they are biracial (mestizo or Mulatto) or Black (Negro), they are capable classifying themselves as white if they are light enough or can pass in Cuba (Gates, 2011). This mirrors the common practice done by many people of color in America. However, in America, there are actual tests and research that is done to ensure the purity of a person’s whiteness (Gates, 2011). Please keep this in mind.

In 1994, a fews years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cuba changed their monetary system (Gates, 2011).  As stated in my previous post, many professionals fled Cuba for other countries due to the lack of competitive pay. With this flight, Cuba turned to other forms of income including tourism and outsourcing healthcare (Cmortalx, 2016).
With a large percentage of income for Cuba coming from trade, tourism, and monies sent from families overseas, there is a lot of transactions occurring with foreign income (Diaz, 2016).  As well, a lot of the Cuban families who send money include those wealthy Cubans and professionals who sought competitive pay and refugee in other countries (Cooke, 2015).  Every foreign dollar that enters the Cuban market is 1 for 1.  This means that the foreign dollar, despite its value in other countries, equals 100 percent of a Cuban dollar (Diaz, R, 2016). This is also called a Convertible Peso or CUC (Gates, 2011).
However, for workers who are employed by the state, which includes those who do not work in tourism being that private sectors are not encouraged in communist states, are paid in regular pesos. These pesos are only 24% or 25% of the Convertible Peso (Diaz, 2016) This is the currency often paid to Black Cubans because there are not a lot of Black Cubans who work in tourism, even to this day (Zurbano, 2013).  This means that while many of the Cuban citizens suffer because of this, it works as an exclusive tool against Black Cubans who were already suffering economically prior to 1994.  This greatly contradicts Fidel and Raul Castro’s promise to end racial inequality in Cuba (Zurbano, 2013).
The promise to end racial inequality and its successes in doing so is propaganda that is constantly spewed by the Castro administration.  The Castro Regime utilized this type of propaganda to dismiss any attempts to call Cuba on its racism (Zurbano, 2013).  In my opinion, the Castro Regime wanted to maintain their image among the Pan-African community as they helped end Apartheid in Africa, provided a safe-haven for Assata Shakur, and helped Harlem’s black businesses with a visit (Howell, 2014). Even with Castro’s attempts to pander to Africans across the world, I don’t see it as an act of love.  I see it as a political move to maintain comradery with anyone who fought against the colonialism done by American and European countries, which isn’t bad.  But it doesn’t prove that Fidel Castro liked or even cared about Black people as many in the media and on social media are trying to spin it.

In 2005, the condition for Black Cubans was not any better. White Cubans dominated the science world, the technician industry, and education. The Black Cuban unemployment rate was twice that of their white peers.  This caused many to find work doing criminalized activity.  This lead to the incarceration of many Black Cubans (Cooke, 2015). Does this sound familiar?
If you are not familiar with Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow”, please give it a read or listen to her here.

The same behaviors that black liberation movements call out and challenge with the American government in regards to the prison industrial complex were mirrored in Cuba under Castro’s regime.  This included stop and frisk where Black Cubans were stopped and more than likely arrested at higher rates than their white peers (Cooke, 2015).
During the time that Gates visited Cuba, Raul’s economic reform, which I found to be capitalistic in nature, allowed those with wealth and real-estate to purchase and sell private property.  However, most those who had wealth and real-estate were Non-Black Cubans (Cooke, 2015) This could be seen by Gates as he visited Quiñones in 2011.  Gates noticed the clear racial segregation in Cuba (Gates, 2011.)  However, due to the media campaign ran by the Castro Regime, many Cubans were not aware of it (Zurbano, 2013).  But to an outsider, like Gates, the social and economic racism is easily noticeable.  Most of the people who live in the nicer areas and can afford to purchase real-estate are Non-Black Cubans.  Yet, when Gates asked Non-Black Cubans about this, they were in shock of the question (Gates, 2011). This proves that the gap in knowledge about racism in Cuba is an external and internal issue for the country.

Black Cubans have effectively been left out of the equation in regards to the successes of the Castro Regime.  However, this race groups suffers the absolute most in regards to the Regime’s failure. Yet, Black Social Media is praising Castro and not even referencing his Regime and his failures as a leader.  And the biggest failure being his inability to end or even stifle the racial inequality in his own country.
In closing, as a Pan-Africanist, I can truly appreciate the gestures of the Castro Regime and know that they were for the greater benefit of the global African community. However, I cannot forgive Castro and his regime for the disregard of the Africans in his country that he allowed to be swept under the rug. There weren’t any cameras or publicity for them, so maybe they did not matter to the Castro Regime.  However, I can’t say I am a Pan-Africanist and nod at a man who disregarded the Africans of his own country.  The Castro Regime and Fidel Castro do not have my respect.
Please let me know what you think?

References and What To Read:

U.S. Census Bureau. 2014. The Hispanic Population: 2010. Retrieved from

cmortalx. 2016. Fidel Castro Dies and Nostalgia Takes Over. Please!. Retrieved from

Cohn, N. 2014. More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White. Retrieved from

Cooke, J. 2015. Amid sweeping changes in US relations, Cuba’s race problem persists. Retrieved from

Depalmo, A. 2016. Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90. Retrieved from

Diaz, R. 2016. Cuba Unified Currency: Government Announces End To Dual Peso System. Retrieved from

Gates, H. 2011. One-on-One With Afro-Cubans: What It Means to Be Black in Cuba. Retrieved from

Howell, R. 2014. Why Black Americans Love Fidel Castro. Retrieved from

Zurbano, R. 2013. For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun. Retrieved from

  • It is mostly sentence structuring, but I do use “after” to indicate that these events occur before the year in question. As well, this is why I use references. Errors like this occur and there needs to be something to go back on if confusion occurs. But thanks for the look out.